3 am is an early start for anyone, especially when you go to bed at midnight. I struggled to fall asleep the night before because I couldn’t contain the excitement. I tend to get that way before a hunt. Waterfowl hunting is one of my most favorite things and knowing that there might be birds in my future, then sleep is going to be questionable. The good thing about the excitement is that it makes staying awake at 3 in the morning really easy.
I cleared the snow off my truck and loaded up my waders and shotgun into my truck and started the hour drive to my buddy’s house so we can drive out to his spot. I stopped by a Mcdonald’s knowing that we had a lot of hiking in front of us and I didn’t want to get caught without energy. The drive was great since there was no traffic. I texted my buddy when I got close to his place to give him a heads up. Getting to his place it was a solid 14 degrees outside. We loaded up his truck and began the other hour and a half drive to this hunting spot.
We headed to a wildlife bird refuge in the middle of nowhere. On the way we saw a Kit Fox which we were both surprised to see. We got into the refuge and had to sign in as we got there and the sun was yet to come up. I had never been there and I was excited to see what the day would bring. As the sun started coming up, we were waiting for shooting hour. This was mostly a familiarization hunt so we didn’t have anywhere specific to set up. Before the sun came up, we saw the morning flight get started. There were so many birds moving south. The birds moving had us super excited. As soon as shooting hours started, we moved in.
Our hunt started with a basic layout of the land. There were a lot of canals and lots and lots of pools. The other nice thing is that the ice was on for most of the reserve. We did some hiking around and saw lots of Coot. In one of the clear pools, in the middle of all the coot, there was a Ruddy duck swimming along. We talked about how I’ve never shot one and how cool it would be to bring it back to show Kaela. We decided at some time that day we’d shoot it. We tried jump shooting some ducks on the canals but they seemed to always get a jump on us. We went off of a canal to where my buddy knew there was a pool and he managed to shoot a Green Wing Teal Drake that we jumped. I missed my duck and felt like I was about to have an off dayshooting. With how the season has gone and even Kaela and I hitting the gun range, I knew my shooting was very inconsistent.
We moved north to a spot my buddy knows is usually open year round. We started our hike in and I decided to do some bird watching. I had a flock of 5 ducks fly away and I could have easily dropped a drake mallard but instead, bird watching was what I did. I did get my share of hard time for not shooting but I knew that I’d get another chance. As we hiked along, we looked for clear water and saw some low reeds and we were hoping for an open pool in there. As we moved in, we jumped a flock of Mallards. I picked out a drake and shot and just watched it crumple. My buddy missed his shots but he had already shot a duck so we needed to even things out. I was so excited to have shot a drake mallard, I went wading into the water and just watched it laying in the reeds not moving. We were talking about how I just dropped that Mallard just as it saw me. It did a loud quack and managed to get up and start running on the ice before trying to swim off in the water. I was about to take a shot and stop it from getting into the reeds when my buddy told me not to shoot. He thought I was looking for trophies to mount on the wall but I was just looking for meat for the freezer. While we sat there debating if I should shoot it or not, the duck made its way into the reeds and disappeared. We searched for a solid half hour and lost it. I’m still mad about it. It probably had 4 curls and a band.
If there is one thing you should know about me, I hate losing birds. To me it’s not just that it’s a duck I lost, It is a life that I took and it should be respected. I know that it’ll go into the eco system and a coyote or something will find it and eat it but I still owe it the respect of searching for it and honoring it. That drake Mallard was on my mind for the rest of the day. We went on to another hole, and this one was solid. By solid I mean, loaded with birds. We were hoping for some drake Pintail. We put on the stalk and found our selves crawling on this island trying to get in range of some ducks we could see. We got as close as we could and we could see the ducks were watching us. You can tell with their perked up necks and them not swimming. We decided we’d pop up and shoot at the same time. On the count of 3 we popped up and surprisingly, I hit a nice Pintail Hen from about 50 yards away. It just curled up and dropped. We got closer and took another shot to finish it off. I recovered that hen and planned on possibly returning to it. We were getting close to lunch and the birds weren’t moving at all.
Before taking lunch, we decided that we’d go get that Drake Ruddy since it never left his spot. This might be the most embarrassing moment of the season for me. I ended up shooting at it on the fly and it landed in the water. I knew I had wounded it since it didn’t try to fly away. I then proceed to shoot at it quite a few more times. Somehow, I missed so many times. I won’t say exactly how many shells I went through but eventually I was able to finish it off. Ruddy ducks can be pretty tough already but throw in some inconsistent shooting and how small it is, it was embarrassing. The nice thing is that it led to us having some really good laughs. The best part was the recovery. I kept walking in and finding some deep channels. I may have gotten some water in my waders from me getting into some deep stuff. My buddy though, walked the shore and found a ridge and walked in knee deep water all the way to the Ruddy and back to shore. We had a good laugh. The Ruddy was named Rudy.
At this point we decided to take lunch and make a game plan for the afternoon. My buddy had a genius idea. I don’t know why I never thought about this but we brought some Mountain House lunches and his Jetboil and that worked like a charm. We had a good hot meal and it was super easy. We talked about the afternoon and it seemed like all the ducks had moved south a bit. We didn’t see very much movement which got us thinking of doing a bit of jump shooting and then setting up on one of the holes that was open. We were banking on the sunset moving the birds around and getting in on the afternoon action.
To be continued…..
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